ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do backflips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father, and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci-fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present, and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

ROBERT HEINLEIN – WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

I’m always surprise at how many people have not read these two novellas at all, or read them, but completely missed the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They apparently believe the two novellas are in one volume “to fill up space.” Since this is among my favorite stories in science fiction, allow me to remind everyone how good Heinlein was in his prime..

heinlein waldo magic inc cover

Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, Heinlein’s point was that all technology is a based on our belief that it will work. As long as we believe in it, all is well. If or when we cease believing, it will cease working. Everything is magic.

The stories proceed from that axiom. Humans lose faith in technology. Magic jumps into the void left by vanished technology …  and becomes technology. The difference between one and the other is effectively nonexistent.

I read these books at least 50 years ago. I hadn’t read them since, but remembered them. I bought them for Kindle and was glad to re-acquaint myself with them.

These were unique and original concepts when they were first introduced in the 1940s. They were still original 25 years later when I read them. They aren’t stale today, more than 60 years after the stories first publication.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. The ideas in these two novellas have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept: we believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

“Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.” — Robert Heinlein

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

PROCASTINATION – IT’S EARLIER WHEN YOU THINK

Procrastination? It’s not procrastination. Uh uh. It’s enjoying the freedom of unharnessed time. For long time-faceyears, I too was scheduled. Always short of time, but never late. Never missed a deadline. Always left the house early in case I encountered traffic. I used up my time making sure to have enough time.

But time is all in our heads. There’s always time and there’s always no time at all. I put off what isn’t critical, do what must be done now, and the rest? I’ll have another cup of coffee and a Danish, please.

I call and change appointments when I don’t feel like going. If traffic piles up? I’m late. I say “Oops, sorry. Hit some traffic.” The world keeps spinning. No one takes out a pistol and shoots me. Yet.

In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein’s Time Travel Corps from All You Zombies —

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow

If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion

A Paradox May be Paradoctored

It is Earlier When You Think

Ancestors Are Just People

Even Jove Nods.

Priorities are important. I’ll get my leaky valve fixed. In time. I’ll get that book review written. Tomorrow. I’ll process some more of the pictures we took yesterday … later. After coffee. After I read, write and think a while.

There will be time. For the important stuff. Maybe there won’t be time for other things and, well … they just won’t get done. Because my hurrying days are done.

MAGIC IS EVERYWHERE – THREE QUOTES, DAY THREE

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world. – Robert Heinlein, “Waldo”

I’m astonished how many people have either never read these two novellas, or read them and manged to miss the point.

If you haven’t read them, you really should, if you are any kind of science fiction fan. They are fundamental to the mythology of science fiction. The concepts Heinlein posits have become axiomatic to later writers.

"Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942." Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

“Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

Many readers — I take this from the reviews I’ve read by people who say they have indeed read the two novellas — apparently don’t see a connection between the stories. They think they are in one volume “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to connect two related ideas.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work (see Clarke’s Three Laws). As long as we believe in it, it works, whatever “it” may be. If or when we stop believing, it won’t work. It is all magic. Science is incantation. Witchcraft codified.

When we lose faith in technology, magic becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is style, not substance. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It is all concept.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. Characters and plot usually take a back seat. These two stories have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept.

We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

YOUTH IN FREEFALL — THE DUKE OF URANIUM, JOHN BARNES

DUKE OF URANIUM COVERIn a future a few thousand years from now, Jak Jinnaka and his pals are having a grand old time. Partying hearty and ignoring everything he’s supposed to be learning at school, he hasn’t spent any time or effort thinking about the future. Any future, but especially his own. His got a great best friend, a gorgeous girlfriend and no responsibilities.

But that ends abruptly the day his girlfriend, Sesh, is kidnapped. He’s beaten senseless and  discovers the world is nothing like he thought it was.

It’s a brand new reality. The beautiful, free-wheeling party girl Sesh is Princess Shyf of Greenworld, heiress and only daughter of the rulers of a powerful kingdom. Jak’s Uncle Sib is not merely the kindly old guy who controls the family money, but a legendary spymaster. Now, it appears Jak is about to enter the family business with no training or time to think about possible repercussions.

It’s the first book in a new series obviously aimed at a teen audience. As was Harry Potter, so I didn’t consider its youthful skew an obstacle to enjoyment. I did sometimes find it a bit young for me … but I also found it witty and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Barnes’ observations on society and culture is razor-sharp.

The characters are fun and interesting. They grow and change, something I always appreciate in a book. This was promoted as being along the lines of Heinlein’s young adult literature, but Barnes writes nothing like Heinlein. I like Heinlein — that’s not true. I love Heinlein. But I like Barnes too. You don’t need to lure me with promises of “another Heinlein.” I don’t need the incentive. I’d read it anyhow.

The book takes a long time to catch fire. Barnes has created a world and needs to explain it. I’d prefer he showed us more and told us less because the book plods for the first half. After that, it takes off and steps out lively.

Not only has Barnes invented a world, but he’s invented a language. It uses a lot of words that are sort of English, but not really. We’re supposed to figure out what they mean by context and mostly, I did. Eventually. It would have been easier if he had included a short glossary or footnoted the words or … just used English. I don’t think the unfamiliarity of the language added anything but confusion.

That being said, I enjoyed the book. It dragged  in the beginning, but the end was fast with plenty of action. Predictable? I didn’t think it was all that predictable … no more than any other book of this type I’ve read. It has a lot of potential as a series and I’ll be interested to see where Barnes takes it.

Rereading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

Cover of "Earth Abides"

When I first read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart more than 40 years ago, it wasn’t newly published, but it was new to me.

Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.

Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.

Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.

The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.

Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.

Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.

The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Four years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.

Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.

The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.

The world ends, the world begins. Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart — The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!

It’s available in every configuration including Kindle, Audible download, audiobook (CD and MP3), hardcover and paperback. There was time when it was difficult to find, but it seems to have found its way back. I have owned at least a dozen copies of Earth Abides and keep an extra copy tucked away to give to friends who haven’t read it yet. I’m glad.

It remains among my top five all time favorite science fiction novels and if you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present. I have a spare copy, just in case.

Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein

SnapIt-137

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In this strange endless and infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears. During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man.

And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!

Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place.

Tree of lives

The logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.

You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.

I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this  particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.

The Best of the Best of Connie Willis

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories
By Connie Willis, with an introduction by Connie Willis
496 pages — Publication Date: July 9, 2013

Available in hardcover and Kindle

BestOfConnieWillis

Reviewing this collection was a pleasure. I love Connie Willis’ writing. All of it. Short stories, novels, novellas, everything. In this volume, I especially enjoyed her introduction. I had already read the stories and loved them. Getting insight into how she came to write them was enormously interesting to me.

Equally interesting were her list of the authors who influenced her, especially since they are the same authors who influenced me, notably Shirley Jackson and Robert Heinlein.

My introduction to Connie Willis was The Doomsday Book. Not exactly one of her lighthearted humorous books, but it was written entirely for me. I have two huge literary passions: the 14th century and time travel. The Doomsday Book is about time travel back to the 14th century, so I was predestined to love it. After that, I worked my way through the rest of the Cambridge Time Travel series and then …

I discovered her shorter works. All Seated On the Ground (included in this anthology) had me laughing so hard it woke my husband from a dead sleep to ask me what in the world was going on. This has got to be the funniest alien invasion in all of science fiction. Yet it also has a message. Willis is one of the few authors who can include a message without making you feel like someone’s banging you over the head with it. It’s there, not hidden, not obscure, but gently put. For your consideration.

I love every story in this collection, though All Seated On the Ground is my favorite. The Last of the Winnebagos is a must-read for every science fiction fan. Honestly, every story in this collection is a must-read. These are fantastic, wonderful, elegantly written stories. Some of them are novellas long enough to sink into and stay a while.

A Letter From the Clearys is an example of perfect economy in writing. Every sentence is crafted, layered, purposeful. Every paragraph is important as the story slowly peels away layers to uncover a post apocalyptic world in which one family tries desperately to cope.

Connie Willis_portraitThe stories are, without exception, gems. At the Rialto is funny, weird, full of the bizarre contradictions of time travel and chaos theory. Connie Willis is obviously fascinated by chaos theory as am I.

I am obliged to admit at this point that short stories are not my favorite literary form. I prefer long books. Very long books. I like series of very long books. After I move into a world, I want to stay there, settle down, and get to know the neighbors. Connie Willis is the only author whose short stories I like as much as her longer works. Do not miss this collection. Even if you have read the stories elsewhere, having them together in one binding is special. I hate to sound like an advertisement, but this would make a great gift for anyone who loves science fiction.

The book includes:

And although I have all these stories in various books including a couple of them as standalone novellas, this is worth having for the wonderful introduction (don’t skip it!) and the delight of having such great stuff in one book.

I have it on Kindle, but this one? I ordered the hardcover too, because some books are worth the shelf space.

Grokking the Fullness: Waiting Is

“Waiting is, until fullness. I grok in fullness.”

― Robert A. HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land

A bench by the dam invites quiet waiting and enjoying the weather.

In my halcyon days, I felt that if you didn’t celebrate on the official day … birthday, Christmas, anniversary, whatever … that you’d blown it.

You’d think with the passing of time, one would be even more eager to get right into whatever life event has presented itself. After all, this IS tomorrow … we are past waiting for a rainy day. Get out your umbrella, the rain has arrived. Who knows how much time we’ve got left? (Really, does anyone know? We could any of us be hit tomorrow by a runaway beer truck.)  Life is ironic and never what you expect. As it turns out, I am infinitely more patient than I was when I was younger.

Near death experiences notwithstanding, I’m in no rush to get anywhere or do anything. There’s going to be tomorrow. I just know it. And if not? Oh well.

Our favorite thing to do to celebrate anything and everything is go out to eat Japanese food. I am a little demented about tempura and our local Japanese restaurant’s special maki roll, the Wanakura roll. Garry orders the sashimi special.

On average, the culinary quality of dining establishments in the Blackstone Valley varies from barely acceptable to so awful I can’t talk about it without weeping. The ultimate in haute cuisine is a burger. Other than that, you can get mediocre pizza from a variety of national and regional chains as well as a couple of local pizza places run by Greeks who don’t grasp the whole “pizza should have a crisp crust” concept. They also serve sandwiches, some of which are nearly edible. There are a few appalling Italian restaurants, one that isn’t half bad, and a variety of places that serve tasteless greasy Chinese food but survive because they have good bars … and then there is Wanakura, the restaurant that keeps us from going mad with insatiable longing for a decent meal. Wonder of wonders, it serves our favorite cuisine: Japanese food.

Wanakura is a small restaurant located in a virtually empty strip mall off Route 140 in North Milford. It’s as good a Japanese restaurant as we’ve found anywhere, from Boston to Washington DC. I believe Wanakura is sure proof that God answers our prayers.

We couldn’t go to dinner this evening, even though we would have liked to go. Without going into gory detail, Garry recently had some delicate, but not life-threatening, surgery. Sitting on a hard bench at the sushi bar is not in the cards today. Nor tomorrow.

So, it will be Tuesday when we celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Every restaurant and personal care establishment in the Valley is closed on Monday. So Tuesday it shall be. Or, if necessary, Wednesday. We don’t need to hurry.

As Michael Valentine Smith used to say: “Waiting is. One must grok in fullness.”